President Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently addressed the 61st session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University, says he thinks President Bush’s more conciliatory remarks addressed directly to the Iranian public is part of a new “two-track policy” of talking tough with the regime while conveying to the Iranian people that Washington’s fight is not with them but with their government.
Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Professor Milani says that President Bush’s assertion that the Iranian people had a right to a peaceful nuclear program was very significant. Abbas Milani noted that in the past, President Bush has refrained from such assertions. When asked what he thought would be the best long-term strategy to deter Tehran from pursuing nuclear weapons, which the United States and many members of the UN Security Council believe is Iran’s goal, Professor Milani advocated a dramatic increase in contacts between Iranian scholars and democratic activists and their counterparts in the United States. He urges more people-to-people exchanges and the easing of travel restrictions so both sides get to know each other better. Professor Milani notes that it is now a bit easier to get visas for Iranian democrats, but the process needs to be improved. At the official level, he believes the two sides need to “sit down and discuss their differences” through direct negotiations. He says he thinks both governments are now trying to find ways to overcome the hurdle posed by their divergent views on Iran’s nuclear technology.
Regarding President Ahmadinejad’s U.N. speech, Professor Milani said that while it did not include as many virulent attacks as in the past, it was nonetheless “vapid and full of empty slogans.” In addition Professor Milani said President Ahmadinejad missed a chance to make a case for “what he and his government stands for.” Rather, he ironically criticized the UN for “allowing a small minority - the five members who have a veto power - to exercise undo hegemony over the rest of the world, and yet he is the president of a regime in which a small handful of people have arrogated to themselves the right of exercising hegemony over the Iranian society.” Professor Milani notes that “if there is one leader in the world who is not justified in making that criticism of the United Nations, it is Mr. Ahmadinejad.”
Abbas Milani reminds that Tehran is quite accomplished in simultaneously sending “conflicting messages” to sow confusion. For example, former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, considered to be among the “reformers,” sent a conciliatory message during his recent visit to the United States. Abbas Milani believes this message was designed to strengthen the position of China, Russia, and France, who support more negotiations before imposing an embargo on Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment as mandated by the UN Security Council.
Professor Milani believes that the regime is indeed “bent on having a nuclear bomb,” and he says the only long-term, effective deterrent to a nuclear-armed Iran is to “push for democracy” there.
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